CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Reid Forgrave spent much of July on the road in cities across the country, covering the live recruiting periods. While there, and in the weeks since, they've surveyed coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest schools in Division I. In exchange for complete anonymity, coaches give unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next two weeks, we'll be posting the results on several questions posed to more than 100 coaches.
The talk of the summer in college basketball circles hasn't been about No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz's injury or Dennis Smith's impressive Summer League performance for the Dallas Mavericks. It hasn't been about which likely one-and-done player will be the best in the country this upcoming season, Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. or Duke's Marvin Bagley or Arizona's DeAndre Ayton.
The talk of the summer has been about the father of a guy who no longer plays college basketball and has yet to play in the NBA.
So we asked 100-plus college coaches this question about the family that's dominated the summer:
Would LaVar Ball prevent you from recruiting LaMelo Ball if he reopened his recruitment?
Quotes that stood out
Coaches who said LaVar Ball's presence would prevent them from recruiting LaMelo Ball …
- "We want to look for guys that are about the team, and he's not about the team. We look at kids, but we also look at parents and families as well."
- "I'm sure LaMelo is great and all that. We tell our players all the time you gotta be better than your problems. And I don't know, unless it's Magic Johnson or Larry Bird coming to play for me, I don't know I'd want to deal day to day with that circus he brings with him. I thought that dude was a clown from the get go. Right now he's a buffoon with what went on at Adidas."
- "You couldn't pay me enough money to deal with that."
- "Yes. I like TEAM players and TEAM parents. This family is 0-2 in this area."
- "My moral compass has too much influence on my decisions. He's not what our society should be about, he's not good for how humans should operate. But it's America, everyone can make money and we elected a far worse human."
- "I just … stay away from that circus. I'm one of these rare guys, it's a team game and I just think that takes so much away from the team. … I think it was the perfect storm for Steve [Alford] to take him. He was coaching for his life last year, he had to take [all three brothers] and it worked out for him."
- "He is college basketball's version of Donald Trump."
- "I would not deal with him. I think he's the type of personality that could contaminate my locker room because he would be pulling kids. As a coach you gotta know someone's talking to your kids if you're not. After a loss or whatever, whoever the kids' friends are, whoever he rooms with, I think that guy would get kids in a huddle try to undermine the coaching."
- "You don't think he's going to intervene? I'm into eliminating distractions. Whoever signs him has a distraction in their locker room because he's going to intervene and constantly be in the [news]."
- "Anything regarding LaVar Ball moving forward is going to be an absolute disaster. [LaMelo's] not as good as Lonzo, so it won't ever work with who he is."
Coaches who said LaVar Ball's presence would not prevent them from recruiting LaMelo Ball …
- "I'd definitely be leery of the circus, but if we could somehow set up the parameters with him and keep him at a certain distance, why not? Think of how much he will promote your program. No doubt it'll be a circus, but there will be more eyes on your program, and they say any publicity is good publicity. I don't know if you can put a muzzle on him."
- "Did Steve [Alford] have any problems with the dad last season? I don't think so. So it really wouldn't concern me at all."
- "He absolutely wouldn't prevent me from recruiting LaMelo Ball. The UCLA staff had zero issues with LaVar Ball when they had Lonzo Ball. The key to me is that LaMelo Ball is an extreme talent and will be a NBA player. It is hard for a guy like LaVar Ball to bitch and complain when that is the case. Now I wouldn't want LiAngelo, the middle brother, because he will not be able to impact at the high major level. LaVar Ball could become a problem in that instance."
- "No, because that's part of the job for coaches. You've gotta be able to camouflage, be able to go into places where you're not comfortable and be able to deal with people from all kinds of different backgrounds, sizes, forms. Different personalities. He would not deter me. I'm sure he would deter others."
- "We get dads a lot worse than LaVar. They just don't get the air time."
- "LaVar would not prevent me, although LaMelo might. I have seen him many times and wish he played with some effort and emotion."
- "I think it would be great for the program. Even though I don't agree with his antics, he's done an unbelievable job. People complain about it, and I'm not criticizing you, but the media keeps covering him. People complain and complain and complain, and media complains, but they're the one giving him airtime. It makes him famous for no reason. He walked into Vegas and people were clamoring to take his picture like he was Justin Timberlake."
Coaches whose answer showed a window into the current state of recruiting ...
- "I'm not trying to diminish what Lavar Ball has done and how people feel about him, but we deal with a lot worse characters than LaVar Ball in recruiting. It's more about getting to know his son and getting to know his family at a deeper level. You can't take what he shows when he's in front camera, the one-liners and the quotables, as a negative toward the kid. You have to look at all those things separately. It's a media creation. I know for a fact that when Lonzo Ball was playing for the same AAU program, he played the same Adidas event in Las Vegas and nobody talked about it. It wasn't until at that event the summer before Lonzo's senior year. Mom and dad coached, three sons on the same AAU team, unique style, the oldest was a great passer -- the whole team played together. They didn't have shoe affiliation. They were just playing together. That was celebrated two or three years ago! And now because he's tried to take control of the media situation, and they've hired cameras to follow him around -- he's decided to capitalize off of it. The people who get hired for reality TV shows, they aren't hired because nobody's talking about them."
- "Do you realize the kinds of fathers we actually deal with? LaVar Ball is a loudmouth. But he's not anything to worry about."
- "He would not prevent me from recruiting him. I think it's one of those where, if he's in your area, you have to. You know what I mean? I think he is such a great talent, if you're on the West Coast and in that area, you can't not recruit LaMelo if you're UCLA, USC, Arizona. They're going to recruit him, and some in my opinion will fake recruit him. They'll offer him and kind of recruit him but not really go after him, and that way you don't get hammered when you don't get him. ... And then when he goes to UCLA, you're not having to answer 'Did we not even offer LaMelo?'"
And some funny stuff ...
- "I wouldn't recruit LaMelo because I don't know if he's as good as you think he is. But LaVar wouldn't have anything to do with my decision."
- "LaMelo Ball would prevent me from recruiting LaMelo Ball."
- "Not at all [would LaVar prevent the recruitment] – especially if I could get some of those Big Baller shoes."
The answers were as close to a tie as you can get. If this were a presidential election, I'd be obligated to inform you that the poll results were within the margin of error.
I was surprised coaches were so divided. I expected the coaches to be overwhelmingly against bringing in a player who, though talented, could have the potential to disrupt all of the chemistry on a team because of his attention-seeking (and whip-smart, and hilarious, and offensive) father. Especially after the LaVar-centered fiasco at the Adidas tournament in Las Vegas in July. LaVar was mentioned in nearly every conversation I had with college coaches there, and most just shook their heads.
Why the divide? It's simple: Some coaches believe talent always wins out, while others worry how distractions like LaVar Ball could disrupt locker rooms and mess with players' egos. Despite the down-the-middle split, coaches felt strongly about it on both sides. One Hall of Fame coach told an assistant that LaMelo "would have to be better than Jordan" to even consider recruiting him.
While his youngest son is certainly not better than Jordan, LaVar Ball is here to stay, like it or not. His oldest son is a centerpiece for the one of the NBA's most historically relevant franchises. His middle son is a UCLA freshman this season. And his youngest son is a top-10-ish recruit and a future NBA prospect who will be UCLA's centerpiece a couple years from now.
If you've turned on a television the past few months, LaVar Ball has been hard to miss. Here he is, hawking his oldest son's brand-new signature shoes for $495 a pop. There he is, telling FS1's Kristine Leahy to "stay in yo lane." Here he is, saying he could beat Michael Jordan at one-on-one. There he is, embarrassing himself and Adidas by getting a female referee removed in the middle of one of his team's games in an Adidas-sponsored tournament -- and then getting a second technical afterward.
For better and worse, LaVar Ball has been a media black hole into which far too much of our attention goes. With with LiAngelo and LaMelo coming soon, that's not going to end any time soon.